Blog Post Day 5, Indian American Opinion and Policy Leaders

November 20th, 2016

Note: A delegation of Indian American Opinion and Policy Leaders is in Israel with AJC Project Interchange and AJC Asia Pacific Institute. The delegation is accompanied by Shira Loewenberg, Director, AJC Asia Pacific Institute, and Nissim Reuben, Assistant Director, AJC Asia Pacific Institute.

Day Five of our Delegation in Israel

The morning began with meetings in Ramallah (West Bank). Ms. Huda El Jack, CEO of the Wassal Group, hosted us in her office, overlooking the city. Ms. El Jack shared her personal background, which included leaving a comfortable life in California to move to Ramallah in the early 2000’s. She spoke of the “fundamental shift in mood” in 2003, when hope for peace changed to a state of hopelessness amongst both the Palestinians and Israelis. Ms. El Jack spoke of a number of issues, especially education, the threat of “brain drain” to Palestinian society, and the economic conditions for Palestinians living on the West Bank. Of the challenges she and others face in business, she highlighted the most serious challenge as unpredictability. She spoke of her interactions with Israelis as an Executive MBA student at Tel Aviv University, her regular visits to Ashdod ports to coordinate logistics of imports and exports from the PA areas.

We then met with Dr. Ali Shaath, CEO of Palestinian Industrial Estates & Free Zones Authority, which oversees the creation and regulation of four industrial zone developments. He described the international community’s and multilateral banks’ investment in these projects, and the expected returns in terms of job creation and revenue. He also spoke about the recent visit of Indian Deputy Foreign Minister M J Akbar and of India donating $12 million to create an IT Infrastructure for the PA and Training at Bir Zeit University. We noted Indian PM Modi’s anticipated visit to the PA and Israel in 2017 to which Shaath said that India is a close friend and they are eagerly awaiting the visit.

After lunch in Ramallah, we drove back to Jerusalem to meet with Dr. Tal Becker, Legal Adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who spoke candidly with the group about his experience and reflections on peace negotiations, and the current state of affairs regarding the Israeli-Palestinian path to peace. With humor and candor, Dr. Becker’s remarks and ensuing discussion helped us understand, from his perspective, the psychology of the conflict and the people involved, shedding light on the challenges that have plagued the process the and the road ahead. Additionally, he helped the group understand the Israeli perspectives on the US elections and its aftermath.

A short break allowed some in the group to walk to Machaneh Yehudah, Jerusalem’s famous open air market for an hour of tasting and shopping in the busy, pre-Shabbat marketplace.

Finally, over a wonderful home-cooked Indian meal in a private home, we shared a relaxed evening with guests from Israel’s Indian Jewish community. The convivial atmosphere allowed for an informal social evening, which included learning about the community’s experience as immigrants to Israel and the lives they have built, today, fully integrated into Israeli society. Some of the board members of the Indian Jewish Heritage Center (IJHC) mentioned how during a joint press briefing in New Delhi a few days before, PM Narendra Modi warmly spoke of India’s Jewish community as a 2000-year-old link between India and Israel / the Jewish People, and which never faced any anti-Semitism. They said that they hope that the Israeli government will be able to copy the successful US model of using the Indian-American community as a bridge to strengthen and deepen relations.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Project Interchange.